brief encounters

I was in Target the other day, by myself, eating lunch before doing some grocery and Christmas shopping.  The past few weeks have been so filled with anxiety that I was relishing having a few minutes to sit at the counter and eat some pizza in peace while the store was bustling around me.  It was noisy and people were moving all about, but I was able to put myself in a bubble for those moments, enjoying people-watching.  Until Olivia burst my bubble.

Seemingly out of nowhere came a little voice, “Hi there!”  I looked and saw this tiny munchkin of a girl, maybe three years old, looking up at me with big beautiful eyes.  I couldn’t help but smile.  “Well hello,” I answered back.  Then I heard her mother call for her to come back to their table and sit down, which she did.  I went back to eating, people watching and scrolling my twitter feed.

A few moments later, “Hi friend!  What’s your name?”  There she was again.  It surprised me and warmed my heart that she called me friend, reminding me of preschool etiquette and Mr. Rogers (who I deeply miss – the world needs more like him!).  “My name is Lisa.  What’s yours?” I replied.  “Olivia,” she answered, and again, her mother called her back, this time with a warning that she either needed to stay put, or BE put in the toddler high chair.  I watched her as she went back to her mom.

Mom looked a little frazzled.  Schlepping a toddler through Target so close to Christmas would frazzle the best of us, and I felt compassion for her.  I’ve been there myself.  I pondered whether or not to go over and introduce myself and sit with them since Olivia was clearly interested in getting to know me better, but the introvert in me won out and I just smiled at her mom, hopefully conveying an “it’s okay, she’s not bothering me,” look.  I always go out of my way to be gentle to moms struggling with kids in stores – like I said, I’ve been there myself, and looks of reassurance always meant so much to me.

Something changed in me in that moment.  Olivia and her mom had given me a gift.  Instead of being in my own little bubble, trying to escape from my worries and fears, I suddenly felt grateful.  Grateful for that tiny beautiful face calling me “friend,” grateful that my children were in school so I could shop in peace, yet also grateful (in the present) for those years when they were young and curious and wouldn’t stay in their seats.  My worries and anxiety melted away for a few minutes, replaced by the joy of this little girl’s curiosity and trust.

I thought of how I could help Olivia’s mom if Olivia escaped her seat again – and of course I had my chance.  She came over to me and said hello again, and her mom looked at me with a face that said, “I’m SO sorry she’s being a pest.”  Well, she wasn’t being a pest in the least, but it was time for me to help this tired mama.  I got off my stool and got eye-level with Olivia and gently but firmly told her (loud enough so her mom could hear), “You know Olivia, I’m a mommy too, and we mommies stick together.  I can tell your mommy really needs for you to sit in your seat and finish your lunch, so I want you to do that for her okay?”  She looked disappointed, but her mother looked relieved and mouthed “thank you.”  I gave them both a big smile as Olivia went back to her seat.  I gathered up my garbage, said goodbye to them and left to do my shopping.

We mommies do (or at least should) stick together.  Our children are beautiful gifts, but they can also challenge our sanity.  When we can show just a little patience and kindness for each other, it can go a long long way.  It means the world but doesn’t cost a cent.

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